The Inner Tom

An Introspective Mind of Thomas Wolfe

"There was a night when he lived on First Avenue [in Manhattan, New York City] that Nancy Hale, who lived on East 49th Street near Third Avenue, heard a kind of chant which grew louder. She got up and looked out of the window at two or three in the morning and there was the great figure of Thomas Wolfe, advancing in his long country-man's stride, with his swaying black raincoat, and what he was chanting was, 'I wrote ten thousand words today—I wrote ten thousand words today.'

Tom must have lived in eight or nine different parts of New York and Brooklyn for a year or more . . . . His various quarters in town always looked as if he had just moved in, to camp for awhile. This was partly because he really had no interest in possessions of any kind, but it was also because he was in his very nature a Far Wanderer, bent upon seeing all places, and his rooms were just necessities into which he never settled. Even when he was there his mind was not."

- Maxwell Perkins on Thomas Wolfe, Harvard Library Bulletin, 1947.

Thomas Wolfe as young child

"Eliza had allowed his hair to grow long; she wound it around her finger every morning into fat Fauntleroy curls: the agony and humiliation it caused him was horrible, but she was unable or unwilling to understand it, and mouth-pursingly thoughtful and stubborn to all solicitation to cut it."

- Look Homeward, Angel

O Lost . . .

"And left alone to sleep within a shuttered room, with the thick sunlight printed in bars upon the floor, unfathomable loneliness and sadness crept through him: he saw his life down the solemn vista of a forest aisle, and he knew he would always be the sad one: caged in that little round skull, imprisoned in that beating and most secret heart, his life must always walk down lonely passages. Lost. He understood that men were forever strangers to one another, that no one ever comes really to know any one, that imprisoned in the dark womb of our mother, we come to life without having seen her face, that we are given to her arms a stranger, and that, caught in that insoluble prison of being, we escape it never, no matter what arms may clasp us, what mouth may kiss us, what heart may warm us. Never, never, never, never, never."

- Look Homeward, Angel

"The hour after his birth she had looked in his dark eyes and had seen something that would brood there eternally, she knew, unfathomable wells of remote and intangible loneliness: she knew that in her dark and sorrowful womb a stranger had come to life, fed by the lost communications of eternity, of his own ghost, haunter of his own house, lonely to himself and to the world. O lost."

- Look Homeward, Angel

"— And the air will be filled with warm-throated plum-dropping bird-notes. He was almost twelve. He was done with childhood. As that Spring ripened he felt entirely, for the first time, the full delight of loneliness. Sheeted in his thin nightgown, he stood in darkness by the orchard window of the back room at Gant's, drinking the sweet air down, exulting in his isolation in darkness, hearing the strange wail of the whistle going west.

The prison walls of self had closed entirely round him: he was walled completely by the esymplastic power of his imagination—he had learned by now to project mechanically, before the world, an acceptable counterfeit of himself which would protect him from intrusion."

- Look Homeward, Angel

"But there grew up in [Eugene] a deep affection for Ben who stalked occasionally and softly through the house, guarding even then with scowling eyes, and surly speech, the secret life. Ben was a stranger: some deep instinct drew him to his child-brother, a portion of his small earnings as a paper-carrier he spent in gifts and amusement for Eugene, admonishing him sullenly, cuffing him occasionally, but defending him before the others."

- Look Homeward, Angel

"Further, it annoyed and wounded him to be considered 'queer.' He exulted in his popularity among the students, his heart pounded with pride under all the pins and emblems, but he resented being considered an eccentric, and he envied those of his fellows who were elected to office for their solid golden mediocrity. He wanted to obey the laws and to be respected: he believed himself to be a sincerely conventional person — but, some one would see him after midnight, bounding along a campus path, with goat-cries beneath the moon. His suits went baggy, his shirts and drawers got dirty, his shoes wore through — he stuffed them with cardboard strips — his hats grew shapeless and wore through at the creases. But he did not mean to go unkempt — the thought of going for repairs filled him with weary horror. He hated to act — he wanted to brood upon his entrails for fourteen hours a day. At length, goaded, he would lash his great bulk, lulled in the powerful inertia of its visions, into a cursing and violent movement."

- Look Homeward, Angel

Thomas Wolfe Ca. 1937

"I agree with you when you say that bitterness is one of the things in life that kills . . . . There is another thing in life that is hard to bear that fortunately you do not know much about — that is loneliness . . . . I think I learned about being alone when I was a child about eight years old and I think that I have known about it ever since. People, I think, often mean well by children but are often cruel because of something insensitive or cruel in their own natures which they cannot help. It is not a good thing, however, for older people to tell a little child that he is selfish, unnatural and inferior to the other members of his family in qualities of generosity and nobility, because a child is small and helpless and has no defence, and although he is no worse than other children, and is in fact as full of affection, love and good-will as anyone could be, he may in time come to believe the things which are told him about himself, and that is when he begins to live alone and wants to be alone and if possible to get far, far away from the people who have told him how much better they are than he is . . . . I can also say that the habit of loneliness, once formed, grows on a man from year to year, and he wanders across the face of the earth and has no home and is in exile, and he is never able to break out of the prison of his own loneliness again, no matter how much he wants to. So with all your troubles and misfortunes of the last few years you can be thankful being alone has not been one of them."

- Thomas Wolfe to his sister, Mabel Wolfe Wheaton, June 5, 1933 (portion of a letter written from Brooklyn, New York City)